Professor Richard D. Wolf recently wrote about the recent government shutdown as it relates to the Tea Party. What he said in his piece was compelling; and, by providing some historical context his reasoning makes a lot of sense. So much so that I think it’s worth checking out. Of course I still believe that much of the opposition to Obamacare and the later government shutdown which has now ended has a lot to do with race. But given Wolf’s assessment, I believe it more so now than ever before. Take a few to check out the following to understand:
The Republicans’ remarkable successes to date, notwithstanding Obama, do not flow primarily from their Tea Party alliance or its lavish funding. They are more the result of the right’s major project in the preceding decades: destroying the New Deal coalition. First, immediately after 1945, the right demonized the Communist Party as committed to violent treason. It followed by equating communism with socialism. With those parties destroyed, it concentrated on undermining organized labor, starting with the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. The destruction of the New Deal coalition was so systematic that it left a legacy of organizational anxiety and political isolation among many Americans. Any political or labor organization on the left had become suspect or dangerous unless it carefully expunged from its programs any criticisms of capitalism.
Viable left organizations and alliances with histories of developing critiques of capitalism and corresponding economic demands have thus been largely absent from recent US history. No trusted networks evolved among activists that could have mobilized a contemporary version of the New Deal coalition. When Republicans directed popular dissatisfaction after 2007 against the government, no comparable push-back came from the left. It took years until Occupy Wall Street (OWS) flashed onto the public consciousness. OWS was powerful, but not for long. The organizational foundation for sustained activity was lacking. OWS had to build organization from scratch and against great anxiety and skepticism. It made headway, was hurt by governmental repression, and now simmers over what to do next. The conditions for its resurgence are in place – waiting for OWS or successors to respond and build on them.
Republican theatrics around shutting down Washington, opposing Obamacare and so on repeatedly emphasize and reinforce antigovernment feelings. Tea Partiers mobilize their stalwarts around extreme dramatizations while more moderate Republicans mobilize the less extreme. The point is to keep popular anger focused away from business or capitalism and on the government (as if it were independent of business and capitalism). The conditions to support all that are in place.
The Republican-Tea Party alliance operates a weapon of mass deflection, protecting capitalism from criticism. Sadly, the Democrats neither expose nor attack the Republican project. Many endorse it, while others – the party’s center and left – mollify the victims of crisis with promises, some palliatives and much pretense. While agreeing with Republicans that saving capitalism is the task at hand, Democrats will make it slightly less profitable for business and the rich and so slightly less painful for the 99%. For securing capitalism, the parties have evolved an effective division of labor – for now. The diffuse Tea Party survives, like other too-quickly dismissed movements with tactics that seem “bizarre,” because it serves key functions (and thus secures key funding) in today’s society. (full article here)
I won’t go into great detail and explain the politics of the day when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal. Yes, no need for me to mention how Roosevelt refused to sign anti-lynching legislation so as to appease the congressional representatives of racist southern whites. Nor is there any need for me to explain why the New Deal was discriminatory by excluding black folks from many programs. However, I will say that what we see today in the form of protest to anything President Barack Obama does is more of the same. Instead of me wasting keystrokes in trying to convince you, if you’re really interested in understanding the right-wing intransigence, click here and read the following in The Nation written by Adolph Reed Jr. When you read it, hopefully you can understand the strategy of the corporate backers of the Tea Party as explained by Professor Richard D. Wolf above. Like I said, it is all starting to make sense to me — it’s all about protecting the wealthy.
Here’s an excerpt:
One lesson to take from reflecting on the New Deal is that political institutions and the politics rooted in them can have significant and far-reaching consequences. The right understands this well. When Newt Gingrich and his protofascist comrades took over Congress in 1994, they sneeringly boasted that they intended to take the federal government back to the 1920s. This was not only because they were bent on eliminating redistributive social programs. They also wanted to extirpate from the culture the idea that government can be an active force for making most people’s lives better. By crippling public institutions, they leave us without any rudder or focus for an effective politics.
We need to remember that in the lived experience of younger Americans today, public power and government capacity have been only dismissed and disparaged. Both Democratic presidential candidates qualify their embrace of federal activism and temporize with fealty to market forces and calls to personal responsibility. Therefore, the nostalgic identification that those of us who are older or who grew up in left, union or Democratic activist households feel for the New Deal era will not transfer well to others. I’ve seen this with my own students. To those young people who encounter the era, unions may have been necessary then; federal intervention and regulation may have been appropriate then. We can use the New Deal as part of a discussion about what government can do and how its actions can change the playing field in progressive ways. What we need most of all, though, is to articulate a politics steeped in a vision like that of the industrial democracy that fed the social movements that pushed the New Deal to be as much as it was.
Listen to Professor Wolf below: